NEWARK, NJ - The second-in-command at the Newark department, who has been helping distribute lead filters to residents, has taken over the reins as its new acting director.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka appointed Department of Water and Sewer Utilities Deputy Director Kareem Adeem as the head of the department on a temporary basis. The appointment comes after the former director, Andrea Hall Adebowale, died earlier this month.

“Kareem Adeem has shown exemplary leadership within this department under difficult circumstances,” Baraka said in a statement. “He is a strong subject matter expert when it comes to our City’s water and sewer facility and is a dedicated public servant to our Newark residents. So I am happy to announce Kareem as the Acting Director of our Department of Water and Sewer Utilities because I am confident that under his watch, this facility will be in good hands.”

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Adeem inherits a department that is named in a lawsuit filed by the Newark Education Workers Caucus and the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental group, over elevated levels of lead in Newark’s water. Several other defendants are named in the lawsuit too. 

Adeem sat next to the mayor and took answers from local and national media outlets during a recent press conference meant to dispel what the city has said is “misinformation” about the lead issue in Newark.

MORE: Newark Claims Disgruntled Employee Tampered With Lead Sample

Newark began to distribute lead filters in October after preliminary results from a study showed that the chemical the city treated its water with had become ineffective in preventing lead from leaching off in resident’s pipes.

“I am truly honored that the Mayor has entrusted me to lead this department,” said Adeem in a statement. “Twenty years ago I started as a temporary worker, and now I have been given the opportunity to take the helm. It is not lost on me that the Mayor is taking a chance on someone who has had a difficult past, but worked hard to change his life and work up the ranks to learn a new skillset. I am grateful. I will not let this City down and I will not let the Mayor down.”

Adeem worked at the city’s water department for more than 20 years and has been heavily involved with projects, including addressing the issue of chronic flooding on Frelinghuysen Avenue. He is a graduate of Essex County College and received Public Works Manager certification from Rutgers University, the city said.  

A search is underway for a permanent director of the department, the city said. 

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